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The Neighbor
Stephen Mruzik


I was almost certain that the neighbor was a serial killer. The small doubt came from the fact that we both watched Game 6 of the 2011 World Series together – the same night the neighbor’s television broke – and got along famously. That doubt was erased, when, on that same night, I was bludgeoned to death with a remote right as David Freese hit that game-winning home run in the bottom of the 11th inning. 

Heidi lived on the other side of me, a longtime family friend, and had been in love with me even before my wife left. She did not, however, care much for my son, Lucas, because he reminded her too much of his mother. So when she found my lifeless body later that night, she was at least relieved to know that Lucas would be staying with his mother in Carbondale. Permanently. 

Lucas’s mother and I divorced a year prior to my murder. In that time, she found another man with whom she had been engaged for three months: an older man named Geno, whose house had an indoor pool and a bowling alley in the basement. The week after my funeral, she broke off the engagement, and promptly moved to Wisconsin with our son. 

Geno’s week was not going too well, either. Two teenagers snuck into his house the day before I was murdered and vandalized his bowling alley. He let it go at first, saying that the graffiti gave the lanes a bit of character, but when Lucas’s mother called off the engagement, a heartbroken and vengeful Geno hired a pair of hitmen to take out the thieves. 

Julius and Julia, twin brother and sister, were instructed to make the deaths as swift and painless as possible. They did not know, however, that the two teenagers were, in fact, teenagers, so when Geno sent them pictures of the two vandals, they had a brief crisis of conscience. Nevertheless, they went through with the deed before purchasing the materials necessary to carpet their unfinished basement with the paycheck. 

The first victim was Stacy, a 15-year-old who was on a first date with 17-year-old Drake, the second victim. Her parents, especially her mother, did not approve of Drake, saying he was a “nasty orphan.” Stacy didn’t care, though, because she liked to annoy her mother. But it was the kind of relationship where, had she survived, she would have inevitably made up with her mother, and the two would have been inseparable. 

Her mother, Heather, had recently gotten into a spat with Stacy about her relationship with Drake the night she was killed by the twins. She spent the next three weeks drowning herself in whiskey and rum, until she lost her job as a dentist when she showed up to a patient’s root canal, hammered. 

Anthony loved his sweets, almost as much as he loved his baseball team. He was a minor league pitcher, hoping to play for the Milwaukee Brewers someday. The botched root canal shattered his maxillary first molar, leaving the right side of his mouth in unending, paralyzing pain. He screamed himself to sleep every night. The pain turned Anthony into a harsh man, and an outright disturbance on the field. He was kicked out of the minors when he attacked an opposing batter. 

Dexter was on the verge of suicide. He had some success in the majors for his first few years, but a longtime slump pushed him back to the minors. He was abysmal in the beginning of 2012, posting a career-low .094 batting average, 0 home runs, and the most strikeouts in the country. He was planning on killing himself one day, even leaving a note for his ex-girlfriend. However, the day before he intended to end it all, he hit a game-winning home run off of Anthony’s pitch, and he felt rejuvenated for the first time in years. 

His ex-girlfriend, Kelly, saw the note, rolled her eyes, and tossed it in her fireplace that night before throwing a house party where she drank more than ever. She woke up the next morning in the same bed as her sister, who ran away from home when they were teenagers and had not spoken to Kelly or the rest of the family since that time. 

Kelsey was in an abusive relationship with her husband, Travis, and was too afraid to escape. She tracked down Kelly’s address with some help from the Internet in the hopes of reaching out to her. When she arrived, Kelly, already drunk, offered Kelsey some Spotted Cows (a Wisconsin brew), and the two engaged in a heartfelt conversation that neither would remember when they woke up the next morning. 

Travis woke up that same morning to an interesting text from Kelsey: Fuck you. Fuck your shit. I’m done. He spent the rest of the morning, grinning, calmly filling a sock with pennies. When Kelsey returned home early in the afternoon, Travis sat on the sofa with the sock resting on its arm. She screamed. 

Darius was the officer who received the call about the domestic disturbance. When Travis was arrested, he looked to Kelsey for support, who merely shook her head and watched her husband being dragged into the backseat. On their way back to the station, however, Travis kept taunting Darius, making him uneasy, which in turn caused him to run a red light at an intersection. The police car was promptly T-boned by a school bus. 

Julius and Julia were driving a school bus they had stolen from a bus driver whom they assassinated a few days earlier. Neither of them were injured in the accident, but had no choice but to flee the scene due to the fact that the bus contained the lifeless bus driver in a body bag as well as an assortment of illegal drugs that the twins had raided from the victim’s meth lab. The two kept running and hitchhiking their way up to Canada, where they settled into an apartment somewhere in Winnipeg. 

Dr. Thomas, one of the best surgeons in Wisconsin, was on duty when Travis and Darius were both rushed into the emergency room. Darius immediately slipped into a comatose state. Before the operation on Travis, however, she prayed for the both of the men to survive. She believed that she always needed to pray when the responsibility for one’s life was put in her hands. The surgery did not go as planned, and Travis lost his life. Dr. Thomas went home that night, unable to sleep.

The next morning, Jamal woke up to see his mother, Dr. Thomas, crying on the couch. Originally, he had plans to go to Miller Park with his girlfriend, Sophie, to watch the Milwaukee Brewers host a game against the St. Louis Cardinals, but also felt the need to comfort his mother. Jamal had already canceled plans four times in a row due to fake excuses (he was growing tired of the relationship), and even though he had a genuine excuse the fifth time, Sophie nevertheless ended the relationship when he canceled at the last minute.

The breakup between Sophie and Jamal was amicable, as the relationship was already losing its charm. Instead, Sophie invited her friend – my son, Lucas – to attend the game with her. The two’s playful feuding (she was a Brewers fan, Lucas a Cardinals fan) caused them both to develop crushes on each other. 

During the game, Lucas was distracted by the familiarity of one of the concession stand workers. I could have told him that it was the neighbor, had I been there, but he was a smart kid. He ordered a Mountain Dew for Sophie, but as he walked away, the neighbor grinned and asked Lucas where his father was. He replied, “He’s a huge Cardinals fan. I have a feeling he’s here.” As the game ended, however, Lucas walked Sophie home, unable to stop thinking about that encounter. 

After Dexter’s game-winning home run against Anthony, his stats in the minors saw massive improvements during the months of May and June. By July, he was called up by the Brewers, his return to the majors to be during the same game that Lucas and Sophie attended. He surprised the crowd with a double and a home run, as well as some phenomenal defense. Nevertheless, the Brewers still lost to the Cardinals, so a saddened Dexter returned to his hotel room, where the neighbor was waiting. 

The murder of Dexter was broadcasted all over the news for days, as the country mourned his tragic passing while police scrambled to find a suspect. 

Heidi received a phone call from Lucas a few days later. At first, she was annoyed to hear from him again, but when Lucas began inquiring about the “strange man” who lived next door to his dad, she was happy to help. When Heidi revealed that the “strange man” moved away a few months after he killed me, Lucas felt that the timing of his encounter at the concession stand combined with the murder of Dexter was too eerie to be a coincidence. He called the police.

Franco, a detective, was obsessive. Thanks to Lucas’s phone call, the police put Franco in charge of the “Neighbor” case. However, he was already in charge of the mysterious “Bus Full of Meth” case, as well. It was a case that haunted him for some time, as he was unable to find out who killed the bus driver, where the meth came from, why there was so much meth, and to where the killer escaped. In addition, he often found himself compulsively checking his cellphone in the hopes that Ashley would respond to his texts. He found himself obsessing over both cases, and Ashley, for over a year. 

Ashley was tired of being stalked by her ex-boyfriend, Franco. She was happy with her new boyfriend and feared that she’d never be able to live in peace with her ex constantly harassing her. At the request of her new boyfriend, Ashley and the neighbor decided to run away together. 

The neighbor fled the state with Ashley, enjoying their road trip to Canada. The two reached their new home sometime in October. The neighbor set his television on a stand and turned it to the 2013 World Series, where the Cardinals were playing the Boston Red Sox in Game 6. Frowning at his cracked screen, he and Ashley walked across the hall to introduce themselves to their new neighbor. 

When Jamal found out that Lucas and Sophie became an official couple by the Christmas of 2012, he spiraled into a depression. With each passing day, he grew more jealous of Lucas’ popularity in school while also struggling to cope with his mother’s increasing guilt over the loss of Travis. Jamal’s sadness morphed into a deep, intense rage by the summer of 2013 when he walked in on Lucas and Sophie having sex at a party. Jamal assaulted Lucas until he was rushed to the hospital, where he slipped into a comatose state. Jamal was arrested and later sent to juvenile corrections.

When Dr. Thomas learned of Jamal’s malfeasance, she pondered the idea of suicide. She entered her son’s room, studying it one last time. However, Jamal left his television on the MLB Network, which was airing a re-run of a documentary that was showcasing Dexter’s struggle with depression. The documentary motivated Dr. Thomas to keep persevering, so she knelt beside her son’s bed and prayed for Jamal as well as all of her patients. 

By the end of September, Darius woke up for the first time in over a year, the last thing he remembered being the sight of two twins laughing as they drove a school bus into his car. Haunted by the memory, he roared, “It was the twins!” Darius’s yell was so loud that it awakened the person next to him, who was none other than my son. 

As Darius described the twins’ appearance, Lucas remembered that whenever he went with his mother to her former fiancé’s house, the twins were always there. He always got bad vibes from them because they continuously sexually harassed his mother, so he went with Darius to the police station, where they provided their evidence to Franco. 

Geno received a call from the police station shortly after Lucas and Darius awoke from their respective comas. He confirmed that he used to be good friends with both of the twins until they carpeted their basement and stopped hanging out in Geno’s dirty, vandalized basement. So upon hearing the names “Julius and Julia” over the phone, Geno was happy to reveal that they owned a secret apartment in Winnipeg. 

Franco was ecstatic to have a potential break in one of his cases. He called Ashley in excitement to tell her the news in the hopes that it would impress her, but she never answered. While Franco drove to Winnipeg with Lucas and Darius, he spent every hour attempting to reach his ex-girlfriend. When she finally answered, however, Franco got carried away with his excitement, losing control of the car and causing an accident that killed himself and Darius on impact, while Lucas flew through the front windshield and into unknown territory.

Julius and Julia answered the door, greeted by the neighbor and Ashley. The four watched Game 6 of the 2013 World Series together. The neighbor and the twins got along famously. By the ninth inning, Ashley was beyond bored. She hated baseball. So when Franco called her during the game, she answered the phone, intending to yell at him, but that was when neighbor bashed her to death from behind using Julius and Julia’s television (which was also the same moment that Koji Uehara struck out Matt Carpenter, clinching a World Series championship for the Red Sox).  

The neighbor, still holding the busted television as a shield, then turned to Julius. Julius, not knowing who to trust anymore, pulled out his gun and pointed it at his own sister. Julia, livid at her brother’s betrayal, pulled out her own gun and pointed it at Julius. As the neighbor dropped the heavy television, the twins mistook the crashing sound for a gunshot, causing them both to unload their ammo on each other. In the midst of the bloodshed, the neighbor was hit by some stray bullets before managing to escape the apartment complex, where he wandered unknown Canadian roads for hours. 

While in juvenile corrections, Jamal began to feel remorse over what he did to my son. One night, he prayed for Lucas’ survival. He vowed to return to the outside world a better man.  Lucas was startled awake by the sound of the neighbor, who had stumbled upon the carnage of the car crash after his escape from the apartment complex and was trying to steal my son’s cell phone in his right pocket. He struggled to navigate the phone’s touch screen, as his massive blood loss had affected even his most basic motor functions. The neighbor eventually collapsed, while my son, after experiencing the initial grogginess that tends to follow a long nap, found himself, by some miracle, unharmed in the car accident. 

The neighbor pleaded with Lucas for a merciful death. As my son retrieved his phone and called the paramedics, however, he had a brief crisis of conscience regarding the neighbor’s fate. 

When the paramedics did finally arrive, the neighbor had long been dead. 

Lucas, still breathing, had already left the scene and returned home to his loving mother and girlfriend. 

And I was able to rest in peace. 

Stephen Mruzik is a first-year MFA candidate at the University of Colorado Boulder. He also works at a pet store from time to time and wishes his parents would have let him have their Basset Hounds when he moved away.